When I go into classroom, in addition to encouraging students to develop a strong sense of self, I try to focus on creating a positive atmosphere and helping them understand that choosing to bully is self-destructive.
As I have pointed out before, 60 percent of all children who continue to bully end up with a criminal record before the age of 24. They also have more difficulty in personal relationships and holding onto a job. So it always perplexes me when parents of children being accused of bullying don't take it seriously.
That said, there are parents out there who are doing their best to make sure their kids don't hop on the bullying bandwagon, but it's not always easy. In addition to parenting issues—like harsh discipline or neglect—there are many influences that can cause a child to choose this behavior.
To name a few:
- peer pressure
- jockeying for social status
- poor role models
- sibling bullying
- emotional issues
Over the past couple of years, administrators all over the country have been struggling to find a way to control this epidemic, but they sometimes appear to be paralyzed by the problem.
As a parent of a child who was bullied, I understand the frustration when it feels like no action is being taken. And, sadly, that can sometimes fuel extremely bad judgment like in the case of Philip and Kimberly Struthers, who took matters into their own hands when their son was being bullied. Philip Struthers is now fighting felony child abuse charges for encouraging his son to physically fight his aggressors.
Clearly, the wrong way to go. Parents need to lead by example and show their kids that how we respond to a situation defines our character. Defending yourself is one thing; violent retaliation is quite another.
In 2009, Aaron Hansen, principal at White Pine Middle School in Ely, NV, decided to take fairly controversial measures to address the bullying in his school system. He used a confidential survey in which the students would list the names of the kids who bullied. Then he did a little cross-referencing and found there were eight names popping up consistently.
Instead of focusing on the numerous victims, he chose to help the kids who were bullying change their ways. By giving them the counseling they needed, they began to adjust.
In addition, he took back control of the lunchroom with assigned seating, and used music instead of a bell to alert students of the change in classes, creating a positive atmosphere.
We may not know—yet—what will work best to reduce bullying, but we do know one thing. Doing nothing ... does nothing.
If parents continue to focus on bully-proofing their children by teaching respect, and building self-esteem, confidence and character, and our administrators focus on identifying and guiding the student choosing to bully, we'd make a pretty good team. It's a possibility, anyway.
I'm hoping that we can recognize that the children aren't the enemy. Bullying behavior is.
And it's only if we take action—and do it together—that the behavior will change.
Taryn Grimes-Herbert is the author of the I've Got interactive book series for children. Calling upon her professional acting experience on Broadway, film and television, she is a public speaker and takes her books and workshops into classrooms hoping to help kids build character, develop empathy and learn to communicate respectfully through creative dramatics activities. For more information, visit http://www.ivegotbooks.net.